National Organisation of Residents Associations


NORA Response to Revising the National Planning Policy Framework




Four serious issues arise.

The first and foremost concern is the apparent failure to recognise that the broken housing market is not a consequence of the failure of developers to produce enough dwellings for sale but is due almost entirely to the failure to produce social rented dwellings. The hole, the consequence of preventing the public sector from building its 100,000 dwellings annually for rent since the 1980s, is now nearly 3 million deep. Since 40% of the population live in rented accommodation, surely 40% of new dwellings should be for rent, and the 10% figure for affordable dwellings built by private developers is seriously inadequate.

Secondly, while the advice in regard to refusals of planning consent for development in the Green Belt and other protected areas is welcomed, the several exceptions that are listed are sufficient to seriously weaken the protection. There is enough scope for aggressive developers to undermine the sensible proposals designed to conserve the very elements of our environment that are essential for the future.

Thirdly, the totally inadequate concern for the enforcement of planning regulations is in utter contrast to the effort, the time and cost that is spent by planning departments on ensuring that all development is of the highest standard. This Cinderella of the planning regime is quite unable to prevent determined developers from flouting the regulations undoing all the hard work undertaken by planning officers.

Fourthly, the widespread use of certain ill-defined terms in the Framework - such as material considerations, sustainable, strategic policies - provides ample opportunities for different interpretations by developers, litigants and planning inspectors to suit their arguments.

We regret that there are still too many loopholes in the Framework that allow decisions to be taken contrary to the principles of good, progressive, fair-minded and sympathetic planning. Our concerns are explained in this response.

2nd May 2018


Q1 Do you have any comments on the text of Chapter 1?

Yes. The use of the word 'material' is frequent in many planning documents. There does not appear to be a clear definition of this term. It is used in many different ways to justify arguments made by Planning Inspectors, planning officers and by the legal fraternity at appeals. In order to clarify and define its use, adding to the Glossary a clear exposition of its meaning in planning would be extremely helpful to all concerned.

Q2 Do you agree with the changes to the sustainable development objectives and the presumption in favour of sustainable development?

'Sustainable' is another word found in numerous planning documents but without a clear definition of its meaning. 'Sustain' has twelve different meanings in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, while 'sustainable' is recorded as meaning 'supportable' and 'maintainable'. It appears in UN literature but in the Glossary of this document it appears only in relation to 'transport modes'. The explanation given in paragraph 7 can be interpreted as meaning any development is sustainable except one that prevents future development, an account which is not helpful. The planning meaning of the word merits a clear definition.

A third word that governs planning decisions is 'strategic', which is the subject of concern in Chapter 3 but appears in paragraph 11.

The re-wording of paragraphs 6-16 of the existing NPPF is clearer, but the key paragraph 9 has been omitted. In particular the loss at this point in the Framework of the emphasis on 'design' is regretted.

Paragraph 12 is welcomed in its advice for refusal of planning consent when there is conflict with up-to-date plans, but the introduction of 'material considerations' in this regard is regretted, since it allows this advice to be over-ridden by providing an obvious loophole to ignore agreed planning policies.

Q3 Do you agree that the core principles section should be deleted, given its content has been retained and moved to other appropriate parts of the Framework?


Q4 Do you have any other comments on the text of Chapter 2, including the approach to providing additional certainty for neighbourhood plans in some circumstances?

Paragraph 14 is unclear. Is it meant to provide cogent protection for Neighbourhood Plans that meet its identified housing requirement regardless of the failure of the Local Plan to meet its delivery targets? If so, could it state just that?

Q5 Do you agree with the further changes proposed to the tests of soundness, and to the other changes of policy in this chapter that have not already been consulted on?


Q6 Do you have any other comments on the text of Chapter 3?

Yes. There are three points we wish to make.

FIRST, the description of what is 'strategic' in regard to policies and plans is gratefully received. Currently what constitute strategic policies are entirely at the discretion of the local planning authority, so the distinction between strategic and non-strategic policies is blurred. We trust this analysis will be implemented and respected.

SECONDLY, the key problem with the housing market is not expressed in this chapter or in the rest of this revised edition of the NPPF.

The enormous hole in the housing market is in the affordable rented sector, which is where the serious unmet demand is to be found. This is represented only by the dwellings in the public sector. The latest data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) reveal that of the 23M dwellings in England only 7% are managed by the public sector, and that figure is being reduced every year as more council houses are sold to their residents.

Data from the ONS shows that since the end of the Second World War about 40% of residents live in rented property. As incomes rise many could afford to buy their own homes. Sadly house price inflation, particularly since the 1980s, has led to an average house-price/income ratio for England of eight, making house ownership an impossible dream for a substantial proportion of adults between the ages of 20 and 35. The abrupt cessation in the 1980s of building 100,000 dwellings for rent by the public sector has consequently led to over 3M adults and their families living at the homes of their parents, a disastrous situation for so many English families. Surely new dwellings for rent should form 40% and not just 10% of the dwellings being built, and a substantial proportion should be for affordable rent?

This NPPF revision makes no reference to this problem. Instead it still appears to be more concerned with building more dwellings for sale. The current annual rate of building new dwellings in the private sector is little different to the rate since the 1950s. In only four years in the 1960s did the number reach 200,000, when the average house-price/income ratio was less than three. Developers in the private sector depend on selling the houses as soon as they are built and need, so they maintain, to make a 20% profit in order to stay in business. The current rate appears to meet that demand as shown by the ONS statistic for the number of owner-occupied dwellings, which has been static at 14.8M since 2001 in spite of building 2.5M new dwellings. Private developers cannot afford to build houses in excess of the demand to purchase them. If they sell them for renting, they still remain in the private sector, and, with the need for landlords to make a profit too, the rents are too high for a significant sector of the community.

Applying pressure on private sector developers to provide more dwellings for sale and insisting on a proportion to be 'affordable' is not a 'sustainable' business plan for developers. A 10% imposition on large developments will not meet the demand of those who cannot afford to buy or rent from the private sector. Nor has the tremendous rise in planning consents for more new dwellings since 2012 been matched by a rise in the number of new dwellings built, proving that it is not a shortage of planning consents that is responsible for the failure to build dwellings at a greater rate. Building more dwellings for sale will not meet the unmet need for low rented dwellings, and consequently will not fill the enormous hole in the housing market.

THIRDLY, a further issue affects a substantial number of local authorities with one or more universities in their area of control often a result of colleges of further education and polytechnics acquiring university status. The need for the provision of appropriate student accommodation has dramatically changed the environment of all these local authorities. The lack of funding for dedicated university accommodation has led to conversion of numerous family dwellings into houses of multiple occupation (HMO) for occupancy by undergraduates and recently to the development of Purpose-built Student Accommodation (PBSA), which may take the pressure off the need for HMO but still adds a large number of students to a community. This can be to the serious detriment of the local resident communities.

In several English towns and cities in term-time the students comprise up to a third of the resident population, and the consequent rise and fall of the resident population during each academic year has both a damaging effect on the economy and services in areas of dense occupation by students and a serious loss of family homes. This problem needs serious attention. We seek a reference to this in paragraph 20 to state that the Strategic Plans of relevant LPAs should be obliged to include cogent plans for student accommodation in their areas of control and defined plans to manage HMO and PBSA development.

Q7 The revised draft Framework expects all viability assessments to be made publicly available. Are there any circumstances where this would be problematic?

The problem of viability arises because the lower profit earned from 'affordable dwellings' is charged to house purchasers on the rest of the development, putting up their house prices and making them more difficult to sell. Surely the subsidy on affordable dwellings should fall on the community and not on the purchasers of a particular development?

No business plan can satisfy this equation. Even a 10% imposition is a sufficient deterrent for private sector developers. It is problematic in all cases, and exposure of the details justifying non-viability will not build more dwellings.

Q8 Would it be helpful for national planning guidance to go further and set out the circumstances in which viability assessment to accompany planning applications would be acceptable?

No. How can you make a viable business case for affordable dwellings when the fundamental proposal expects private developers to provide discounts?

If the cost of affordable dwellings fell on the community, either in local or general taxation, then viability would cease to be an argument used by developers.

Q9 What would be the benefits of going further and mandating the use of review mechanisms to capture increases in the value of a large or multi-phased development?

Planning officers have sufficient problems to resolve without having to assess business plans. Is the proposal intended to employ more accountants rather than more planning officers?

Q10 Do you have any comments on the text of Chapter 4?

The retention of the short paragraph 59 on Enforcement reveals how this crucial responsibility of the planning regime is the Cinderella of the system. It should be mandatory for every LPA to have an effective Enforcement Policy and to employ adequate staffing to ensure that all the effort and time spent on approving planning consents is respected. What is the point of all the planning policies and planning conditions if they can be so easily flouted?

Enforcement should ensure that the conditions on planning consents are observed and not ignored. When breaches are found it is essential they are examined and corrected where possible, and only if the breach is trivial should the decision to take enforcement action be left to the discretion of the enforcement officer. Otherwise the public respect currently granted to the planning system will be at risk.

Q11 What are your views on the most appropriate combination of policy requirements to ensure that a suitable proportion of land for homes comes forward as small or medium sized sites?

The 'suitable proportion of land for homes .... as small or medium sites' is surely dependent on the geography of the area and the type of dwellings needed. No universal policy could provide a useful method of calculation.

Surely the type of dwellings proposed in developments must depend on local needs and local demands. Predictive data from the ONS for each local authority will provide a guide to the number of families, the age structure, the special needs for the elderly, students, migrants, etc. and also the shortage of affordable rented dwellings. Accordingly no universal policy could provide a useful method of calculation for this.

Q12 Do you agree with the application of the presumption in favour of sustainable development where delivery is below 75% of the housing required from 2020?

No. The question here should be 'Why is the delivery below the 75% requirement?' Granting more planning consents, presumptive or otherwise, won't build more houses, but might allow houses to be built where they are undesirable for one reason or another. This proposal is likely to benefit the private sector in allowing them to build where it is not desirable but where it may be more profitable. It is the public sector that should be building the dwellings.

Q13 Do you agree with the new policy on exception sites for entry-level homes?

No. This would open the door to development where it is not acceptable such as in protected areas. It could also lead to 'affordable dwellings' ghettoes. There may be a need for extra services such as public transport, health care, teaching, waste collection, etc., a cost falling on an already over-loaded public services sector. We should aim for mixed communities.

Q14 Do you have any other comments on the text of Chapter 5?

Paragraph 81 lists opportunities to breach the restriction on new buildings in isolated rural areas. Exceptions always introduce opportunities to exploit the rules, and they can add an unnecessary burden to local services such as waste collection, education, health care, supply of services for electricity and water, and they can damage the natural environment. The exception that gives rise to the most criticism is 81e, which is unnecessary and is clearly the most unsustainable - using the definition given in paragraph 7 - and it opens the door to prospective development where it is not needed or desirable. Please remove it.

The great concern over the supply of planning consents for housing for sale overlooks the great problem of the shortage of subsidised rented dwellings. Until this is addressed, applying pressure on developers to build more dwellings for sale will not solve the broken housing market.

Q15 Do you agree with the policy changes on supporting business growth and productivity, including the approach to accommodating local business and community needs in rural areas?

In general yes, but the inclusion of leisure activities is suspect since the appearance, for example, of golf courses in rural areas can damage the environment and introduce traffic in areas unsuited for commercial use. See the response to Q30.

Q16 Do you have any other comments on the text of chapter 6?


Q17 Do you agree with the policy changes on planning for identified retail needs and considering planning applications for town centre uses?


Q18 Do you have any other comments on the text of Chapter 7?

Yes. The loss of retail outlets leading to the change of use to premises for Use Classes A3 and A4 can result in dramatic changes to the environment of town and city centres particularly where there are likely conflicts with nearby residents due to unwanted noise and nuisance especially in the evenings and during the night. Local Plan Policies need to include an assessment of the proportion of such developments that is acceptable.

Q19 Do you have any comments on the new policies in Chapter 8 that have not already been consulted on?


Q20 Do you have any other comments on the text of Chapter 8?

The concept of 'healthy and safe communities' is fully supported, but there is a need to encourage not only mixed-use but aslso mixed communities on housing development.

Q21 Do you agree with the changes to the transport chapter that point to the way that all aspects of transport should be considered, both in planning for transport and assessing transport impacts?

Yes to all but paragraphs 106 and 107. Any provision of new parking of cars in town and city centres should be restricted to residential properties in order to reduce pollution and congestion.

Q22 Do you agree with the policy change that recognises the importance of general aviation facilities?


Q23 Do you have any other comments on the text of Chapter 9?


Q24 Do you have any comments on the text of Chapter 10?


Q25 Do you agree with the proposed approaches to under-utilised land, reallocating land for other uses and making it easier to convert land which is in existing use?


Q26 Do you agree with the proposed approach to employing minimum density standards where there is a shortage of land for meeting identified housing needs?


Q27 Do you have any other comments on the text of Chapter 11?

Yes. Reference must be made to the need to ensure each dwelling has adequate space for residential use. Here is the opportunity to advise developers to use the Nationally Described Space Standards, published by the Department for Communities and Local Government, as the minimum standards for new dwellings. This Standard should be mandatory and opting out needs adequate justification.

Q28 Do you have any comments on the changes of policy in Chapter 12 that have not already been consulted on?


Q29 Do you have any other comments on the text of Chapter 12?

Yes. One of the major issues on design of new buildings is how to avoid losing the local ambience. So many new housing estates are built with standard designs that are seen all over the country, so that there is no feeling of the locality. It may be economic for the large developers to impose such uniformity, but it is boring and fails to respect the local environment.

Secondly the display of advertisements by estate agents is rarely sufficiently controlled, which leads to their domination of an area and worse still they can remain on the street long after the sales or letting have been concluded. A point should be made that advertisements for property should only be displayed until the relevant contract is signed.

Q30 Do you agree with the proposed changes to enable greater use of brownfield land for housing in the Green Belt, and to provide for the other forms of development that are 'not inappropriate' in the Green Belt?

We agree with and welcome the concern to protect the Green Belt, but we totally oppose the several exemptions that allow development in the Green Belt. To quote the definition of sustainability in paragraph 7, we regard all the loopholes created by this list as not sustainable since they deprive future generations from free access and enjoyment of the Green Belt.

The term 'not inappropriate' covers a multitude of sins, and we strongly object to the inclusion of these proposals on the grounds that they may so disfigure the desirable features that they become objectionable and undermine the very reason for the Green Belt. Here are some examples.

The leisure facilities are unspecified. They could include golf courses, racecourses, even theme parks, which would detract from the peace and quiet, turn the free Green Belt into commercial enterprises with charges for access and destroying the natural qualities of the Green Belt scenery.

Nor do we understand why cemeteries are included. The countryside in much of Northern France is the site of numerous cemeteries reminding us of the horrors of the First World War, but we see no reason to duplicate this in our own countryside, which does not hold such awful memories.

Why should new dwellings be allowed for whatever reason to appear on Green Belt land even brownfield sites? Attractive towns and cities in England will always be the target for more dwellings, but if the only area where more housing could be built is the adjacent Green Belt, permitting that development can only result in slowly destroying the very attractiveness that made the towns and cities desirable places to live in the first place.

To convert un-used buildings, industrial or farming, in the Green Belt is also undesirable because it would conflict with the reason for the Green Belt. To allow housing to develop with the associated services and traffic in places where they do not exist also conflicts with the stated principles of sustainability. To sweeten the pill by applying the exemption to 'entry-level homes' is unrealistic, since the occupants would be in ghettoes and need extra facilities not only for transport to town and city centres but for health care, schooling, etc.

Exceptions such as re-building, extensions and development of old buildings, provide excuses for anyone prepared to abuse the system to the detriment of the Green Belt. The only acceptable exception in paragraph 144 is 144a in respect of agricultural need.

Q31 Do you have any other comments on the text of Chapter 13?


Q32 Do you have any comments on the text of Chapter 14?


We agree that development in areas liable to flooding should be refused, so it is with some concern we view the list of exceptions and qualifications listed in this chapter. The risks of flooding are changing as the climate changes, and it seems to us quite wrong to allow any of the exceptions to operate.

The damage to property, the risk to life, the burden placed on the emergency services and the extra cost of trying to protect property are all avoidable. Exceptions are both unnecessary and invite tragedy.

The same concerns apply to development in areas of coastal change where both subsidence and flooding are risks.

Q33 Does paragraph 149b need any further amendment to reflect the ambitions in the Clean Growth Strategy to reduce emissions from buildings?

No comment.

Q34 Do you agree with the approach to clarifying and strengthening protection for areas of particular environmental importance in the context of the 25 Year Environment Plan and national infrastructure requirements, including the level of protection for ancient woodland and aged or veteran trees?

We agree with the protections granted in this chapter, but we strongly object to the exceptions described in paragraphs 173b and 173c.

In 173b the use of the phrase 'the benefits of the development clearly outweigh both its likely impact on the feature of the site that makes it of special scientific interest, and any broader impacts on the national network of Sites of Special Scientific Interest' is so open to personal and emotional bias that it renders the policy worthless.

In 173c listing 'wholly exceptional reasons' in the footnote substantially reduces the pressure on developers to find alternative ways of avoiding damage to protected valued natural assets.

To provide these loopholes will allow development at the expense of irreplaceable assets in the environment and the community.

Q35 Do you have any other comments on the text of Chapter 15?

The inclusion of further exceptions to allow development that harm the diversity of habitats is opposed. To provide loopholes for development where it is undesirable is bound to lead to unacceptable development.

Q36 Do you have any comments on the text of Chapter 16?


Q37 Do you have any comments on the changes of policy in Chapter 17, or on any other aspects of the text of this chapter?


Q38 Do you think that planning policy on minerals would be better contained in a separate document?

No comment.

Q39 Do you have any views on the utility of national and sub-national guidelines on future aggregates provision?

No comment.

Q40 Do you agree with the proposed transitional arrangements?

No comment

Q41 Do you think that any changes should be made to the Planning Policy for Traveller Sites as a result of the proposed changes to the Framework set out in this document? If so, what changes should be made?

No comment

Q42 Do you think that any changes should be made to the Planning Policy for Waste as a result of the proposed changes to the Framework set out in this document? If so, what changes should be made?

No comment

Q43 Do you have any comments on the glossary?

Yes. This would be more helpful if an explanation or description were also given for the use and meaning of the three words found frequently in planning documents 'material', 'sustainable' and 'strategic' mentioned in our introduction.